Former Rep. Stephen Bowen of Rockport, a rising Republican in the Legislature until he was defeated last November as part of the Democratic surge in the House, has joined the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center as its expert on education.

The Camden Middle School teacher, who served on the influential Appropriations Committee last session, has produced a report for the policy center promoting a form of school district sharing that leaves local school boards intact, but promises to save on administrative costs.

Bowen, who lost his seat to Rep. David Miramant in a 51 percent to 49 percent vote, was in the Statehouse halls last week pitching his plan and his new position.

Asked if he was concerned about being labeled a conservative because of his new role, Bowen said the Maine Heritage Policy Center does not take stands on social issues and is in line with his beliefs on fiscal policy.

“I was a TABOR supporter,” said Bowen, who called himself a fiscal conservative.

The Maine Heritage Policy Center wrote the proposal for the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that was defeated at the polls. It regularly produces positions papers and studies on tax and spending and health care.

Bowen said his role as an education consultant will allow him to keep his hand in state policy.

His first position paper outlines a plan for “educational service districts,” where existing districts and school boards stay in place, but form cooperatives to get savings on some administrative functions and education programs. Bowen said he was working on the proposal when Gov. John Baldacci came out with his plan to reduce the number of school districts in the state to 26.

Under an educational service district plan, Bowen said the state could use those same 26 regions – currently the state’s vocational education districts – and set up charter commissions that would identify areas where school districts could share.

Those areas could include budgeting, transportation, purchasing, special education or enrichment programs, staff development and program evaluation.

Bowen said in other states where these sharing districts have been set up, schools have saved up to 20 percent.

“There are several aspects of Gov. Baldacci’s consolidation proposal that have caused concern among education officials and others, but perhaps none so much as the rapid speed by which the generations-old school board model is to be cast aside in favor of super-sized regional school districts with which the state has no tradition or experience,” Bowen wrote.

“An ESD model, by contrast, preserves local control and could be implemented in stages, with local school officials identifying areas where regional cooperation makes sense.”

Bowen’s plan adds to a list of school regionalization ideas, including one from the Maine Children’s Alliance, which also calls for using the 26 vocational districts as “planning alliances.” It, too, calls for the local school districts to propose ways they could share, rather than having that mandated from Augusta. The alliance report came out last year and there is a bill in the Legislature to implement its findings.

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